While at one hand the Left government is trying to project an image of being business-friendly, on the other it is stuck in petty red-tape.
It has been fashionable over the years to brush aside Kerala’s efforts to gain ground among business-friendly states. Not without reason, as these attempts have been disjointed, half-hearted and poorly strategized.
The most frequently used stick to beat the state’s fledgling efforts at cutting its teeth as an investment destination has been its overpowering trade union mindset, with hartals adding spice to an already heady potion colloquially labelled ‘nothing’s going to happen here’, which when read properly means’ ‘entrepreneurs beware’.
On June 18, Gulf returnee and budding entrepreneur Sajan Parayil committed suicide after local Communist Party of India (Marxist) leaders running the Anthoor municipality, near Kannur in north Kerala, refused to grant permission to his newly-constructed convention centre. This incident has once again put the spotlight on Kerala’s hostile attitude towards business and industry.
However, nothing could be farther from the truth about the government’s attitude towards business. Those who know the goings-on in the state government will not shy away from admitting the reality — that the CPI(M)-led government is working out of its skin to be seen as business friendly. So much so that the problem is it wants to play a decisive role in all upcoming business opportunities in the state, way beyond that of the role of a mere facilitator.
Now, the skeletons have begun tumbling out of the municipality cupboard about how the clearance to the Rs 18-crore convention centre got entangled in objections which could have been addressed at a cost as low as Rs 50,000. If the storyline of this avoidable tragedy has got blurred between the clash of giant but fragile egos and the new-found yen of comrades to join the corporate bandwagon, those looking at Kerala through the prism of militant trade unionism cannot be blamed for missing the fine print.
For some time now, one section of the Left cadre in Kerala has been watching uneasily the none-too-camouflaged attempts of the party bosses to waltz with the capitalists while the other section has been trying hard to emulate the seniors. A manifestation of this malaise, of crony capitalism that is gripping the comrades in Kerala is now visible in the total disconnect its student faction, the Students Federation of India (SFI), is experiencing on many college campuses. Lone rangers are being forced to pay obeisance to the corporate style functioning of student leaders who say they are merely following their party elders.
In this dangerous cocktail where the apparatchiks are confused whether to follow the leader or the machinery, an inevitable ingredient is custodial death. The latest is a custodial death at Nedumkandam, in Idduki, earning the jail superintendent nothing more than a transfer, elicits only a lukewarm response, both from the ruling and opposition fronts. It makes you wonder why the late K Karunakaran felt compelled to resign as Chief Minister following the custodial death of P Rajan during the Emergency in 1976.
Given the lax values as to what is right or what is wrong that govern present society, one cannot really blame the Left Front leadership for trying to reinvent itself as a player in a world of corporate supremacy.
Long gone are the days when multilateral funding agencies such as World Bank and Asian Development Bank were quite the untouchables; today, the comrades make a beeline for a sit-in with the funding agency bosses. They also take genuine pride in announcing funds for various projects across the state that come with dozens of stipulation. There is not even an iota of unease. It is as if the past no longer matters.
While the Left leadership has laid out a red-carpet for ‘development’ and businesses, even at the cost of flaunting opposition, the lower-rung leaders are yet to leave behind the red-tape all too familiar with the ideological moorings so long practised.
Cut to the present and the scamper up the corporate ladder. The Pinarayi Vijayan-led state government has reportedly sought the good offices of a merchant king of Kerala origin, who is as much sought after in the state as he is at the Centre to broker deals. The deal would allow the middleman lateral entry in running of the Trivandrum International Airport for which the official bid has already been won by the Adani group. The deal being offered, it is learnt, will be a joint venture with 51 per cent stake to the Adani group while the state government will partially divest its 49 per cent stake in favour of other corporate houses. No prizes for guessing who will get a slice of that pie.
Who said the Kerala government is not business friendly?Vinod Mathew is a senior journalist based in Kochi. Views are personal.
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